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Play Games, Get Smarter

Posted by on Sep 4, 2014

I play word games on my phone. Some of you may know my addiction to Words with Friends and Hanging with Friends. Now Zynga, the company that launched these games, has gotten me hooked on a new one, Scramble (with Friends, of course).

There is a difference between Scramble and the others. They allow you to pick perfect letters to form the most partner-stumping words at your own sweet pace. But Scramble is a race against time! As in the traditional word scramble games, you must find as many words as possible running in multiple directions on a letter grid. Meanwhile, the clock (normally 2 minutes) is running.


I avoided this game for years. Then recently, I had this little chat with myself:

Why don’t you play this game ? 

Because I don’t like working under the gun for time. 

Why not?

Because I can’t think that fast and it is overwhelming and frustrating, and I shut down.

Well, can’t you learn to work that way?

Hmm, maybe…ok, let’s play.

images-1Well, when I started, I was a deer in the headlights. I would freeze and couldn’t see a single word. I lost my first 45 or 50 games. Pretty demoralizing. Then, slowly, I calmed down and started to to see words. More and more of them. I even started to win a few games! Now it is a beautiful challenge to get in that “focus zone” and fly through the grid.


Why am I talking about this in a health and fitness blog?

Because three unexpected results have changed the way my brain works with amazing implications for daily life.

The first is the ability to work under time constraints. We all have deadlines, many of which seem daunting and may make us want to avoid the task as long as possible. When you challenge yourself to work against the clock, you can beat your expectations by thinking and tasking faster than you imagined possible! This makes all chores seem easier, because no longer are they insurmountable, time-consuming sentences. Now I fly through many tasks with the greatest of ease, sometimes trying to beat the clock to turn them into a game.

The second result is the ability to see patterns from different angles. Finding words running right to left, diagonally and wrapped around other letters gives you a new perspective. The world just got bigger, as you notice things you used to miss. I am making new connections between Yoga, core training and even horseback riding. What a benefit to my clients!

 Thirdly, the game teaches perseverance. It’s hard to come back time after time when you keep getting beaten and you can only find 18 words to your opponent’s 42 words. But hanging in makes all the difference. The reward is that much sweeter for having struggled first. I know that if I just keep at it, my skills will improve. imgres


I like exercising my brain this way, but you might find a different game or sport to challenge yourself. The main idea is that it should be fun. You just might surprise yourself!

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Posted by on Jun 4, 2014

I have been looking into the benefits of a more active stretch for our warmups. It really makes sense to prepare the muscles for activity by warming up dynamically, albeit at a slower, unloaded pace. Range of motion can be increased slowly, motor patterns can be reviewed, and the body and brain can connect in preparation for workout or sport. If you train with me, you can expect more active warmups!

Here are a couple of videos with some interesting warmups. Let me know what you think in the “Add a Comment” section below:

Stretching The Truth
3923_1_warmup_75x75Mark Kovacs, manager of sports science for the United States Tennis Association in Boca Raton, Fla., explains the benefits of dynamic stretching.

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Kettlebell Technique: some basics

Posted by on May 7, 2011


Art of Strength, based on the East Coast, is very generous with training tips on kettlebell form. They have some great videos and from time to time, I will post them here. I am fortunate to train with some great people from their organization, Christine Huppee and Henry Marshall, of Punch Gym.

The first is a foundation movement, the swing. Before you can learn any other kettlebell move, you must master the swing. It is a bend pattern that incorporates gluteal and hamstring muscle as prime movers and requires a neutral spine and activated lower abdominals for optimum results. Sounds complicated, but really it is about using your butt and legs to create momentum to lift the bell. It is also about keeping your center of gravity back in the heels to protect the lower back from carrying the load.

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Learning from a Taekwondo Master

Posted by on Feb 15, 2011


This fellow is extremely flexible and clearly a master of his art, but don’t let that intimidate you. We can all benefit from these movements. Short-duration, active stretching is a great way to increase range of motion and wake up your nervous system before a workout or sport. Just GO SLOW, observe the positions, and even if you start with limited range, you will make increases over time.

He gives special attention to toes and feet. At first I could hardly fit my fingers between my toes. Hang in there with that one, runners!

Be careful with the ones where hips are in the air. This puts some strain on the lower back. Try putting pillows under your low back to prop up, and make sure to engage lower abdominals.

Let me know how it goes.

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Posted by on Nov 28, 2010


In my kettlebell class, we warm up our shoulders with Indian Clubs. They have gotten my attention because of the flexible, pain-free range of motion I experience in preparation for a demanding kettlebell session. What are they? There must be a story…

shapeimage_2 Of course, I purchased a pair which came with a video. Indian Clubs are made of wood or plastic and resemble bowling or juggling pins. The video’s instructor, Dr. Ed Thomas, is a genteel, scholarly sort – not the hyperactive gym jock or jockette I normally see on YouTube! I was impressed by his educated description of the shoulder girdle and its structure and function. After following along and learning as much as I could in the first session, I eagerly conscripted my son, Sam, to give it a try. He quickly realized that his right shoulder was not as strong or as coordinated as the left, his dominant one. Next, I went to indianclubs.net.

Below is an excerpt from the history chronicled by Dr. Thomas:
Club swinging is believed to have originated in India by soldiers as a method of improving strength, agility, balance and physical ability. During the annexation of India, British officers witnessed the graceful motions and essential property of expanding the chest and exercising every muscle of the body. The British brought the Indian Clubs to Europe where the Germans and Czechs adopted club swinging into their physical training systems. German immigrants brought the clubs to the United States in the mid-1800s, where they were soon introduced into both American school physical education programs and military physical readiness training. Indian Club Exercises lost popularity in the 1920s in exchange for sports and games.

Here is Dr. Thomas’ description of the clubs’ applicability to shoulder movement:
The shoulder girdle is probably the most movable area of the body, but it is also one of the most fragile. Strength of the shoulders should be complemented by flexibility, and the clubs can contribute to both. When the ball and socket joint of the shoulder works in harmony with the elbow and wrist joints, an almost infinite number of circular patterns is possible. The basic club patterns are the foundation of all shoulder girdle movements, including those applicable to martial arts. The key to effective use of the clubs is concentration, precision, and practice.

and their relevance in modern culture:
Many if not most Americans do not fully develop their natural shoulder girdle mobility and muscular balance. Ill fitting furniture, poor posture, and our tragically inadequate system of physical education in our nation’s schools are among the many cultural factors that keep us from realizing our highest potential. Basic club skills offer a safe and very effective means to regain essential shoulder girdle mobility. More advanced club movements include complicated arm and footwork that contribute to overall agility, timing, and dexterity.

I am faced daily with shoulder issues in my clients, and I am thrilled to have such a powerful tool within reach. I have ordered a variety of clubs, from 8oz to 22oz in weight and I can’t wait to help people get reaching and stretching! The movements are harmonious and graceful, enjoyable to learn and perform. Take a look at this example of Indian club training (not sure I would have anyone squat as seen later in the video).

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Posted by on Nov 17, 2010

Kettlebell is an awesome “art and science” but most of all it is fun and highly functional. It integrates movement in several planes, requires endurance as well as power, and a high degree of shoulder, hip and core stabilization.

That being said, I have to share what I am learning as I go along because it’s the most fun I have had in a workout for some time. I must give credit to my instructors, Christine Huppee and Henry Marshall of Punch Gym, Austin.

The video is from a group in the San Francisco area, but it should give you a feel for the discipline of Kettlebell. Please let me know what you think! If it looks intriguing, find a good trainer in your area.

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